FACING EVIL, ISRAEL MUST NOW CHOOSE: EITHER VICTIM OR EXECUTIONER
By Louis Rene Beres
25 August 2003
Our world is normally silent in the face of evil - even when that evil is overwhelming and apparent. At worst, many are directly complicit in the maimings and slaughters. At best, the murderers are merely ignored. It is in this persistently-defiled world, in this altogether unchanging world, that Israel must now make a fateful decision: Shall it continue to be a victim of Palestinian terrorism, so as not to offend the generally uncaring populations of the "civilized" world, or shall it begin to use whatever force is required to remain alive?
Palestinian terrorism is unique both for its cowardice and for its barbarism. Nonetheless, were Israel to depend upon the United Nations or the United States or the European Community or the broader "community of nations" for relief, its plea would certainly fall upon deaf ears. This does not mean that Israel has no lawful recourse to protect itself. On the contrary. Recognizing the essentially decentralized nature of international law, and the fundamental and unaltered right of states todefend themselves from annihilation (a right strongly reaffirmed by President Bush's ongoing NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGY OF THE UNITED STATES), the State of Israel now has every legal authority to expunge the growing evil of Palestinian terror. It has, in short, the clear legal right to cease being a victim and to become an executioner.
Confronting what they call "our era of fear," the writings of Albert Camus would have us all be "neither victims nor executioners," living not in a world in which killing has disappeared ("we are not so crazy as that"), but one wherein killing has become illegitimate. This is a fine philosophic expectation, to be sure, yet the careful French philosopher did not anticipate an evil force for whom utter extermination of the enemy was the only "strategic" object - not even in a world living under the shadow of Holocaust. What is more, Camus could assuredly never have guessed that the "enemy" of this evil force would once again be "The Jews." Were Israel to follow Camus' reasoning, therefore, the effective result could only be an enlargement of Jewish pain and suffering in the land, an enlargement so boundless that it would usher in a new era of genocide. Declining the right to act as a lawful executioner, the State of Israel - beleaguered by unceasing and ever-more destructive Arab terrorism, violence even likely to include chemical and biological agents - would be forced by Camus' impressive reasoning to accept its own destruction.
Why was Camus, who was thinking, of course, in the broadest generic terms, and not about Israel in particular, so sorely mistaken? Where, exactly, did he go wrong? By seeking an answer to this question, Israel can now learn a great deal about its uncertain survival.
My own answer to the question lies in Camus's presumption, however implicit, of a natural reciprocity among human beings and states in the matter of killing. We are asked to believe that as greater numbers of people agree not to become executioners, still greater numbers will follow upon the same course. In time, the argument proceeds, the number of those who refuse to sanction killing will become so great that there will be fewer and fewer victims. The problem, of course, is that Camus' presumed reciprocity does not exist, indeed, can never exist, all the more so in the Islamic Middle East. Here the will to kill Jews will be unimpressed by Israel's particular commitments to Reason and Goodness, or by Israel's disproportionate contributions to Science, Industry and Learning. Here there are no Arab plans for a "Two-State Solution," only patently overt plans for a decidedly Final Solution. It follows that Jewish executioners now must have their distinctly rightful place in the government of Israel, and that without them there will only be more and more Jewish children's ashes to sweep from the country's oft-bloodied streets.
In the next-to-best-of-all-possible-worlds for Israel (the best of such worlds would be one where the Jewish State had no murderous enemies at all), that country's most implacable foes would subscribe to the settled norms of civilized international behavior. Here negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians might actually be sensible, and could even lead to generally gainful agreements for all parties. But Israel does not live in such an imaginary world; rather, it lives in a world wherein Jerusalem's desperate demonstrations of civility are interpreted by frenzied Arab enemies as weakness, and where dead Jews are never a means to an end, but an end in themselves. In this real Arab/Islamic world of butchery and bravado, a world where the killing of Jews (all Jews; any Jews) is not only a firm religious mandate but also a preferred path to both sexual ecstasy and personal immortality, Jerusalem's unwillingness to use appropriate massive force against terror always invites more terror. At its heart, such unwillingness is taken as an open invitation by Palestinian enemies to wage an heroic "Holy War" against kindergartens, school busses and ice cream parlors.
Traced back to its origins, the willful barbarism of Israel's terrorist enemies is rooted in frightful Islamist attitudes toward death, both individual and collective. So long as these enemies see some remedy for their own unbearable mortality in the killing of outsiders, in the killing of Jews, they will, as we have seen so often, prepare gleefully to become executioners. This leaves Israel with essentially three options: (1) create conditions whereby Palestinian terrorist enemies of Israel can be detached from their frightful pursuit of immortality; (2) create conditions whereby these enemies can detach Final Solutions for their overriding fears of death from the purposeful massacre of Jews; or (3) create conditions whereby erroneous Israeli presumptions about Reason and Goodness and Politics that have spawned more and more Jewish victims are quickly discarded.
Options 1 and 2, of course, are beyond the realm of possibility. Nothing Israel can do could ever affect its terrorist enemies' most deeply-rooted orientations to death and deliverance. Israel can only look seriously at Option 3, deciding to accept it, and thereby to survive, or to reject it, and thereby to die. Although the intellectuals and professors and poets and artists and philosophers everywhere - many even in Israel -would grieve audibly at such expressions of Israeli "inhumanity," this grief would be little more than the expected cry of those who have forgotten both History and Memory, the insistent lamentation of those who would remain untouched by both life and death. Significantly, this hideous lament would be far easier for Israel to bear than the consequences of a misplaced faith in Reason and Goodness, the sort of faith first spawned by a stillborn wooden horse named "Oslo," and presently reincarnated as the so-called "Road Map."
In the next-to-best-of-all-possible worlds for Israel, the Jewish State could choose to be neither a victim nor an executioner. But in the existing world, Israel and its relentlessly murderous Palestinian enemies both operate amidst the long-established rules of a balance-of-power global system. In this terrible and terrorizing world, a world whose security dynamics remain essentially what they have been since the Peace of Westphalia in the seventeenth century and which will continue to operate for the forseeable future, Israel must recognize that it can easily be forced to disappear.
Sadly, as we learn from even scriptural sources, killing is sometimes a sacred duty. Camus failed to acknowledge this, a failure born of self-deception concerning human fears, human possibilities, and human law. Faced with such fears and possibilities, all law must rely, in the final analysis, on the executioner. To deny the executioner his proper place, as the ancient Israelites were well aware, is to deliver civilization to the murderers and to construct entire mountains of new victims.
LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) Professor Department of Political Science, Purdue University lectures and publishes widely on matters concerning international relations and international law. His work on Israeli security matters is well-known both in Israel and the United States. Prof. Beres is the academic advisor to the Freeman Center For Strategic Studies.
E MAIL: BERES@POLSCI.PURDUE.EDU